Are the changes to the Criminal Code homophobic?

Are the changes to the Italian Criminal Code homophobic?

A new bill against homophobic crimes is currently at the center of a lit controversy between the Italian government and the Italian Church. Does Italy need a new bill that specifically protects homosexuals and transgenders? What are the pros and cons of such a bill?

The new bill
The Italian Justice Commission of the Chamber of Deputies has submitted and adopted the unified text of a bill introducing changes to the Criminal Code in June 2020. The bill adds to the code the crimes of “propaganda of ideas” and the “discriminatory acts” based on “sex, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity”. It also includes the crime of misogyny. It will be presented to the parliament for final approval on July 27. To propose the new bill was Alessandro Zan, member of the Democratic Party in Italy. The discussion in the Parliament at the end of July promises to be harsh, while the time deadlines imposed by the schedule of the Italian Parliament do not allow significant mediation.[1][2]

The bishops’ note against the bill
As a consequence of the attention given to the bill, a note entitled “Bishops against all discrimination” was published by the CEI (Episcopal Conference of Italy). The bishops stated in the note that there are already enough norms that prevent and repress violent behaviour. They added that subjecting those who believe that the family requires a father and a mother to criminal proceedings, would mean introducing a crime of opinion and damaging personal freedom of expression, influencing educational choices and limiting exercise of criticism and dissent.

To them, this law simply excommunicates all those who have any criticism concerning homosexuality and their family role and would negate the possibility of an “authentic and intellectually honest confrontation.” An open and free dialogue, the bishops concluded, would benefit the respect of the person and the democracy of the State.

In the note, the CEI also underlined the importance– in addition to carefully applying the provisions already in force – to commit to a kind of educational system that is focused on preventing offences against homosexuality and any other person.

Other voices against the bill
Massimo Gandolfini, leader of the Family Day, who participated to the first parliamentary vote on the text of the law, was one of the voices against the bill. He argued that the decision  to approve the bill by the Justice Commission of the Chamber of Deputies is insensitive to the disappointment expressed by a vast social front – which goes from the CEI to feminists, passing through family associations: “and decides to adopt a useless and dangerous  text that institutes a new crime, that of homophobia precisely, without defining it, thus leaving enormous room for interpretations by the judiciary and for liberticide drifts.”[3]

The vice-president of MCL (Christian Workers Movement), Giovanni Gut, also criticised the bill and argued that we cannot use this law to educate the population and that there is a big risk that this bill will introduce the crime of opinion.[4]

Responses to criticism
Zan, the proposer of the new bill, responded to the criticism by arguing that those claiming that the bill is liberticidal, utilise the pretext of freedom of expression to justify the continuation of expression of hate speech and homophobia. This kind of discourse, according to him, has nothing to do with freedom of expression but is rather incitement.[5] 

Laura Boldrini, who for years has fought against crimes of homophobia,  also negated that the bill introduces crimes of opinion.  She argues instead that the text presents aims to punish those who commit or instigate crimes against gay and trans people and do not touch the freedom of expression of thought and the propaganda of ideas.[6]

The need for balance
It is clear that this bill brings up the tension between the need to protect the weakest of society and freedom of expression. The strong controversy created in Italy proves that there is not a clear answer to solve this tension. Therefore, the Italian nation will have to find the right balance between these two important principles.

Ghila Amati

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[1] Alla Camera. Legge omotransfobia: la Commissione Giustizia adotta il testo unificato
[2] Italian bishops criticize proposal for new homosexual and trans-phobia law
[3] Alla Camera. Legge omotransfobia: la Commissione Giustizia adotta il testo unificato
[4] Omotransfobia, non si educa il popolo col codice penale
[5] Alla Camera. Legge omotransfobia: la Commissione Giustizia adotta il testo unificato
[6] Legge contro l’omofobia: cosa prevede il testo in discussione in Parlamento